Interview with Ben Overmyer of Iron ArachneBy Duncan Thomson on
...a human would intuitively know that a coastal town probably exports fish and has a problem with storms. Getting a computer program to take that into account takes more than a bit of effort.
Ben Overmyer, RPG designer and tools creator, is our latest Creative.
Q&A with Ben Overmyer
How did you get into creating random generators?
Since I was in my single digits, I've been fascinated by game programming. I discovered RPGs when I was around ten years old. It didn't take long for me to start writing my own RPGs, and as a consequence, I inevitably started writing out random result tables. Sometime in the mid-90s, I started writing little BASIC programs to do the random results for me. Just about everything from that era is gone now, but in the last few years, my interest in random generation has only grown stronger.
What generators are you most proud of creating and why?
At the moment, I'm pretty proud of two of them - a heraldry generator, and a random character generator for Uncharted Worlds. The heraldry generator is my first major project written in Go, and I had to figure out a lot of things about the language in the process of writing it. The Uncharted Worlds generator, on the other hand, was written in PHP, but the author of Uncharted Worlds gave it an official shout-out of support, so I was pretty stoked about that.
What is the most fun thing about creating generators?
I love seeing really complex logic yielding an interesting result in the blink of an eye, where a human rolling dice would take potentially hours to do the same thing. It's awe-inspiring to me.
What are the most painful lessons you've learnt from creating generators?
The single most painful lesson I've learned is that we take for granted how much creativity and on-the-spot decision making humans do in order to create things. While I can pull a fantasy kingdom out of my head that kind of makes sense with only a few moments' thought, coding all of the implicit rules involved in that is a lot harder. For example, a human would intuitively know that a coastal town probably exports fish and has a problem with storms. Getting a computer program to take that into account takes more than a bit of effort.
How do you use random generators yourself?
My favorite use of them is for fleshing out characters and backstories with details that I don't want to put a ton of effort into. Getting results that makes sense together is a challenge with that approach, though.
What are your next big projects (generators or otherwise) that you can talk about?
Every generator I write - with the exception of the Uncharted Worlds one - is actually a piece of a larger system that I'm working on. The end result for that is going to be a generator that produces an entire coherent campaign setting on its own. As you can imagine, that is an enormous undertaking. Right now, I'm iterating on the heraldry generator, a town generator, a character generator, and a world generator, all in that support of that.
Where can people find you on social media?
Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
Math is hard, haha.
Check out the Heraldry generator and my other creative interviews. Leave any suggestions for other RPG or generators creatives you'd like interviewed!